Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: May 2013

Summer Tech

We are all counting down the days to graduation and beyond, but please take a few minutes to look through our tech integration staff development catalog for this summer. We planned our classes based on our survey, so we know we will be working on skills teachers want to master.

If you have signed up for a class you don’t want to miss, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up as well. We must have a minimum number of participants for the class to meet.

Not sure what to take or what you might get out of a session? Stop by or drop me a line.


Planning and Revising

As the year winds down, several teachers have stopped by to talk about projects that are still in the works around GHS. This has started conversations about planning for next year’s G21, especially when a project had great potential but had a few problems in the execution. I’d like to share some of what I’ve discussed with teachers in hopes of helping others start looking ahead.

As you read this, keep in mind that many of the teachers I have spoken to over the past week plan on revising this year’s project for next year. They are using their experiences this year to make next year’s version better.

  1. Whatever your project might be, build in check points and deadlines during the project’s progress. This is a great method of keeping students organized. Having intermediate deadlines assures that students are making progress even if the due date is still far in the future. Most importantly, looking over whatever the students might have accomplished prior to the due date lets the teacher give feedback and help students maneuver some course-correction if the project is heading in the wrong direction. This is makes any project a more valuable learning experience than when students are allowed to turn in products that do not meet teacher expectations.

  2. Avoid scheduling pitfalls. The end of the second marking period and the beginning of the third are prime times for snow closings and delays. Working around these times away from school is never easy. I’m not telling you to just sit on your hands in the winter. Just allocate enough time for the project to be successful. Of course, I also like working on G21 projects early in the school year. The collaborative and creative nature of the projects helps create a true learning community within your classroom, and the earlier in the year this happens, the better.

  3. Make the project part of what you do throughout the year. Rather than interrupting the flow of your curriculum with a well-meaning but disconnected project, look for something that blends in seamlessly with what you already do. For example, if your students are producing a collection of videos about different topics covered, build that into each unit you teach and do it in small bites. The first unit might be difficult, but as the year goes on, the kink will work themselves out. By the end of the year, your students will be pros.

  4. Make the project useful and meaningful. This advice comes from a teacher who will be using this year’s project as part of her instructional materials for next year. Her students are leaving a legacy, and they know it. This has been a great motivator for them.

  5. Make technology a tool rather than a goal. Don’t approach your project by saying, “I want to make a movie” without thinking of what making a movie will involve or teach your students. Start with what the kids should learn instead, and find a product that will allow everyone to learn and express their learning with creativity and a personal touch.

Keeping all this in mind, I think next year’s G21 projects can be even better than this year’s projects. I’m excited to have started the planning process with a few teachers already.


Universal Design for Learning

This morning I started reading a book titled Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Applications. It was a present from a friend who works with pre-service teachers and thought I’d find it interesting. I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, and already I have a million things going through my head.

If you are unfamiliar with UDL, the idea is to design learning environments, activities, and assessments that make it possible for all learners to succeed. Whether students have disabilities or need a little extra challenge to keep them engaged, UDL states that there should be flexibility in how materials are accessed and how students demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge. 

UDL has been around for a while now, and even Congress has weighed in on its importance by passing the Higher Education Opportunity Act (passed in August of 2008). It is hard to look through any publication about education without running into the term a few times. So why are we still ignoring what huge volumes of research show us is a great practice?

As an ITRT, my job involves meeting with teachers to craft learning activities that maximize the benefits of technology to all students. I usually try to emphasize creativity and flexibility of expression. Teachers sometimes worry that this will lead to chaos. With poor planning, it very well could. However, it is possible to let students choose how they access content and their own means to demonstrate learning. The perfect example is Ms. Exum’s G21 project, Becoming Spain.

For the second year in a row, Ms. Exum’s students recreated cities of spain on their classroom walls. They had to research of the most representative economic, cultural, and political aspects of each city. The students had to select a city as a large group, then select a particular topic of personal interest. At the end of their allotted time, the students had to have a personal product based on their individual topic. Then, each class had to work collaboratively to gather all they had learned into a physical representation of the culture of each city on the classroom walls.

Individual student projects varied wildly. There were fashion designs, videos of fashion shows, original musical compositions, sculptures, poems, scale models of famous buildings, replicas of famous art, on and on. All students used technology, but the project was not about the technology. It was a project about Spain, not about iMovie or GarageBand or Google Docs. As part of their research, students read books and articles and blogs, watched videos, looked at pictures, listened to music, etc.

How did Ms. Exum keep things organized? She had specific goals for what students needed to show her at predetermined dates. While the students worked, she consulted with them and gave them constant feedback. She was a hands-on teacher from beginning to end (as all teachers should be).

At the other end of the spectrum we have an assignment a colleague had to complete for continuing education credits. Each participant was asked to share something that is already being done in his or her classroom. The instructor missed a huge opportunity to demonstrate UDL in action when she demanded that all course participants create  PowerPoint presentation. Everyone had to have the same parts to the presentation, a similar number of slides, and even went as far as specifying details such as font size and the number of images used.

What was the point of this assignment? The content is already known; it is something these teachers already do in their classrooms. I must assume then that the learning objective was related to the creation of a PowerPoint file. That’s a bit dated, but not necessarily bad. However, by being so specific in the instructions, so inflexible in the form, the instructor made this hard for those who might not have been exposed to PowerPoint in the past (incredibly unlikely) and too easy for students who had the drive and ability to make something more.

I’m thankful to my friend for sending me this book. I hope I can keep making connections between what I read and what I do. Next school year, I hope to bring lots of UDL ideas to my G21 planning meetings. I’ll keep you posted.

The Importance of Making Things

For thousands of years, we learned by doing. We worked alongside our parents and were apprenticed to the experts. Assessment was as authentic as possible; you either could or could not do your job. No percentages, no bubble sheets, no expedited retakes.  Skills were skills in the 1st century, 9th century, and 18th century.

I’m not necessarily saying our students are not learning the way we are teaching them. What I’m saying is that the way they are learning is so abstract, so far removed from what is actually done by people not in schools, that much of the knowledge is useful only on a paper test. Teaching a child how something is done is not necessarily the same as teaching the child to actually do this thing. 

Take, for example, my conversation with my own children this week. We are one of those hyper-connected families that has to set device-free time aside some days. Increasingly, we cannot let go of a question, ever, without jumping online and racing each other for the image, the video, or the explanation. So we know things. Or do we?

In discussing the latest superhero movie, green screen technology and image manipulation came up. My son said, “I know how to do that. You do it on a computer with something like iMovie.” Immediately, the older sister challenged him. If he really knows so much, show it.

“Well, I’ve seen how it is done, but I have not done it. I don’t think I can actually do it.” Ah. Well…

My immediate reaction was to find the links to the appropriate online tutorials, and the kids bookmark these and plan to “maybe make another movie this weekend.” Mission accomplished. If I asked them about special effects in my Weekend Entertainment SOL test, they’d likely pick the correct answer despite the clever distractors.

But they still can’t make that movie. Or maybe I should say, nobody knows if they can make that movie because they haven’t. I’ve covered my “curriculum” and I’m right on track with my “pacing guide” to make them the most amazing kids ever before they leave for college, but I KNOW I need to change my approach.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been reading and talking about maker spaces and the Maker Movement. I know there’s a lot of talk about 3D printing and Children’s Engineering, but as a colleague said to me recently, “If I see another (fill in the blank) made of toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners I’ll scream.” I love the idea of making things, but if we approach this the wrong way and make things in a way that is not authentic and applicable outside of school, are we doing anything differently? 

There are many changes in the works at Goochland High School. The CTE department will be growing exponentially, and students will have opportunities for authentic, applicable, and practical learning while expressing their creativity. I hope this growth meshes with our existing G21 framework and helps us give every child in every classroom more real-world, hands-on learning opportunities.

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